CHARLENEM -Western Reg. Correspondent-

Report warns assaults going unreported; victims’ needs ignored

( – Young women are being raped on college campuses all across the United States but instead of receiving support, resources and justice from their school administrators, many face institutional barriers and either drop out of school entirely, or adapt to victimization a second time around.

After a nine-month investigation on the heavy blanket of secrecy surrounding sexual assault on college campuses, journalists for the Center for Public Integrity released its findings in a report entitled, “Sexual Assault on Campus: A Frustrating Search for Justice (”


Students who reported being victims met a litany of barriers when they attempted to pursue hearings, including mysterious disciplinary proceedings, off the record negotiations with administrators, illegal gag orders, and guidance counselors who were disinterested in the victim’s plight altogether.

“Our series of stories demonstrates how these trends affect real women. Just over half of the 33 students we interviewed claimed that they unsuccessfully sought criminal charges and instead had to seek justice in closed school run proceedings, that lead to either light penalties or no punishment at all for their alleged assailants,” said Kristen Lombardi, the project’s lead reporter.

During a Dec. 1 conference call with reporters, she said perpetrators found not responsible faced no punishment at all. Guilty parties were told to have to write academic research papers on how to treat the other gender better, or ordered to go to counseling. Rarely did responsible parties face expulsion.

Nearly a third of interviewees said school administrators discouraged them from pursing rape complaints, and about a dozen reported experiencing extreme confidentiality requirements, followed by threats of punishment if they disclosed information about their cases, Ms. Lombardi said.

According to 2002 Department of Justice study (“The Sexual Victimization of College Women”) one in five women will be the victim of rape or attempted rape by the time she graduates, yet 95 percent of the incidents will go unreported.

According to Ms. Lombardi, about 80 percent among college women go unreported, primarily because of their age, usually 18-19 years, which makes it overwhelming to deal with the aftermath of assault, especially if a school is unsupportive.

“Overwhelmingly, the students who went through the process and were unhappy with the outcome, which was a vast majority, left. They left their schools, dropped out and their educational opportunities and residual careers suffered as a result,” Ms. Lombardi said.

Many don’t report the incidents because they blamed themselves or they don’t identify what happened as sexual assault.

But Mallory Shear-Heyman, a former student at Bucknell University, did and spoke up to no avail. She was sexually assaulted as a sophomore and was strongly encouraged to participate in a common yet controversial confidential mediation, which puts alleged victims and alleged perpetrators in the same room to discuss the incident and reach emotional closure.

The mediations offer no punishment, nor repercussion for anything incriminating an alleged perpetrator might say. “That might work in a dispute with a roommate, but not necessarily in a sexual assault case,” Ms. Lombardi said.

“Mediation itself was a horrible experience … I was in a tiny little room, no more than an arm’s reach from my assailant,” who admitted what he did was sexual assault, Ms. Shear-Heyman said. She said her university chose to stay neutral.

“I was misled and constantly given different answers as to what I could do afterwards, which left me now five years later unable to pursue any sort of justice,” Ms. Shear-Heyman said. She advises any student faced with the same situation to seek outside counsel or advocates.

The Center for Public Integrity also looked at 10 years of complaints filed against universities under Title IX and Clery Act, federal crime reporting laws. Title IX is the civil rights law that requires gender equity for males and females in every educational program that receives federal funding. It also prohibits discrimination based on sex (including sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape).

The Clery Act (The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act) requires all colleges and universities that participate in federal financial aid programs to collect, retain and disclose information about crime on or near their campuses.

Still, the center discovered, one sexual assault prevention program documented 46 sexual assaults at West Virginia University in a recent academic year, but they were absent from the university’s annual security report.

A counseling and victim advocacy program at the University of Iowa served 62 students, faculty, and staff who reported being raped or almost raped in the last fiscal year and those incidents did not show up either.

A victim advocate program at Florida State University compiled statistics on 57 sexual offenses both on and off campus in 2008, but only a fraction of those appeared in the school’s official crime statistics.

The center attributes the discrepancies to limitations and loopholes in the Clery Act, including broadly applied reporting exemptions for counselors who may be covered by confidentiality protections, confusion over definitions of sexual offenses, and the law’s comprehensive reporting provisions.

Ultimately, Ms. Lombardi said, the students interviewed felt the process lacked transparency and accountability because of the secrecy, and it was too easy for the schools to do what was in their best interest and not the victim’s.

Even though the law permits, some school security reports redact the names of students found responsible for sexual assault, but Ms. Lombardi believes that only perpetuates the problem. Others allow campus newspapers to report statistics, such as the number of hearings, dispositions and sanctions, but that’s about it.

“There’s less likelihood of systemic problems if there’s an open process and some kind of outside scrutiny at work,” Ms. Lombard said.